At Southwest Voter Registration Education Project, Latino Vote '99
San Antonio, TX
May 21, 1999
Good evening. Buenas noches. I am delighted and honored to join you in celebrating Southwest Voter Registration Education Project's 25th Anniversary and Latino Vote '99 Conference. I'm particularly delighted because being here in San Antonio I am a little bit closer to my home state of New Mexico.
I believe it is very fitting that we celebrate SVREP's accomplishments - registering over 2,000,000 Latinos to vote; training organizers, young leaders and candidates to run for political office; successfully litigating voting right law suits; organizing getting out the vote drives throughout the Southwest--you all know the history better than I. And all these accomplishments the product of the vision of Willy Velazquez who recognized early on that Latinos in this country can only become empowered if they exercise their fundamental right to vote. SU VOTO ES SU VOZ.
Y QUE VOZ PODEROSA. Indeed, it is truly remarkable that because of the phenomenal growth in Latino voter registration, particularly in states with large electoral blocks like California and Texas, the political pundits and the two main political parties have recognized that the Latino vote may determine who wins the year 2000 presidential election. As Tim Chavez, in a Tennessee newspaper put it, "Hispanics are hotter than the green salsa at the neighborhood Mexican restaurant." Imagine, we Latinos deciding whom the President for the new millennium will be. QUE VOZ PODEROSA.
We need to be reminded, however, that this is not the first time that the presidential campaigns have taken notice of the power of the Hispanic vote. Some of you may remember the Viva Kennedy campaign in the Southwest. I was very young at the time, but I remember it because of my grandfather, the late U.S. Senator Dennis Chavez, who represented New Mexico for over 32 years in the Congress until his death in 1962. My grandfather was co-chairman, together with Henry B. Gonzalez of the Viva Kennedy Clubs. He campaigned tirelessly through the valley here in Texas and in Southern California.
I am told he started in San Antonio and ended up in El Paso at a huge rally for Kennedy and Johnson. My grandfather, accompanied by his wife Imelda, attended many rallies and events. I am also told he campaigned just like he did in Northern New Mexico, taking time to visit with families at their homes and share some chile, beans and menudo. And I've read that the Viva Kennedy Club's get out the vote effort proved critical to Kennedy's victory in Texas. Some precincts in El Paso went 100% for Kennedy. So, Latinos here in Texas already have left a huge mark in presidential elections. And you are to be celebrated for your continued efforts in empowering Latinos through their right to vote.
While we are on the subject of voting, getting out the vote and registering voters, I'd like to briefly touch on the promise that the Internet holds in this area from my perspective as a Federal Communications Commissioner. Many jurisdictions are already experimenting with both the concept of registering voters over the Internet, and actually casting votes on-line. The efforts are still very embryonic because of many obstacles and concerns. In most jurisdictions, voter registration requires a signature. In many instances, electronic signatures are not sufficiently developed to satisfy the statutory signature requirements or statutes would have to be changed to permit electronic signatures. As regards voting on-line, there are many concerns including developing appropriate verification procedures and the potential for voter fraud.
Despite the concerns, I can report that the Department of Defense is experimenting with five counties in seven states so that some military personnel stationed oversees can cast their votes electronically in the next presidential election. I can also report that in 1997 Astronaut David Wolf, while whirling through space at 18,000 mph in the Russian space station Mir, was the first American to cast his vote over the Internet by laptop computer. Now that's real absentee voting!
Despite the obstacles, I am confident that on-line voting may become a reality in my lifetime. Indeed, 43% of the respondents in a recent poll believe it is likely they would be voting electronically from their homes or offices within 20 years. I also believe the Internet is a vital new outlet for our democratic process. It is a forum for promoting discussion of issues and campaigns. And the Internet is also facilitating gathering information for candidates.
I'd like to shift from the fundamental right to vote to another fundamental right. A right that we Latinos recognize as critical to the future of our familias and our children - the right to an education. SVREP 's exit polls in California and Texas in the 1998 election showed that Latinos identified education as key for determining their vote for governor. And just as I learned about the importance of the vote from my grandfather, I learned from him the importance of education.
Dennis Chavez was a wonderful person and he continues to be a great inspiration to me and many others. You may not know that my grandfather had to leave school after the 7th grade to go to work to help his family. He didn't go to high school or college, but educated himself by reading at the public library in Albuquerque. He did go to law school later in his life by passing a special examination. But because he lacked formal schooling, he placed a special value on education and books. That's why he helped many New Mexicans go to law school in Washington, D.C. (that's when New Mexico had no law school) by finding them jobs so they could afford to go to school. My favorite story that I've heard from some of those students is that my grandfather required them to show him their report cards on a regular basis!
So I learned from my grandfather to value education, but I was also extremely fortunate to have excellent educational opportunities. And it was those opportunities that paved the way for my success as a woman and Latina in the political and governmental world. I could not be where I am today without an excellent education.
But not everyone is so fortunate. Not everyone, as we know much too well, has access to libraries or to excellent schools. Not everyone has opportunities. And our Latino community and our Latino children, despite notable progress, still lag too far behind in enjoying opportunities to excellence in education. Latinos are still too far behind in access to this fundamental civil right. The notion that education is a fundamental right is at least as old as our country. Adam Smith described education in 1776 as a basic civil right, suggesting in The Wealth of Nations that a person "without the proper use of the intellectual faculties" was stunted in their human development.
Today, our Latino youth is lagging behind in having access to the new and modern world of information provided through the Internet. Latino families at most income levels are behind in ownership of computers and Internet access as compared to non-Latino white families. According to Department of Commerce figures, the percentage of Latino households with computers is 19.4%, as compared to 40.8% for white non-Latino households. The percentage of Latino households on-line is 8.7%, compared to 21.2% for white non-Latino households.
That is why I am so proud of the work we have done at the Federal Communications Commission to close the gap for Latinos by connecting our schools and libraries, but particularly our neediest schools, to the information superhighway. The FCC's schools and libraries program, better known as the e-rate, was designed to get all classrooms in America hooked up to the Internet. In an ideal world, we would have funded all schools, but for political reasons we had to scale back the size of our program. We then decided we had to fund the neediest schools first. Because most of our Hispanic youth are enrolled in the neediest schools, our Hispanic youth will soon reap the benefits of the schools and libraries program. I am happy to report that schools in states with significant numbers of Hispanic youth - such as Arizona, California, Illinois, Florida, New Mexico, New York, Texas, and Puerto Rico - received a total of nearly $729 million dollars in e-rate funding. And here in Texas, you received close to $129,000,000 million dollars in e-rate funding.
But why is access to the Internet so important? I am not an educator, but I can tell you that I see the Internet as many things. It is the modern town plaza -- a place to do business; a place to communicate with family and friends. It is this ever vast and limitless library. As I've mentioned, it is a forum for the democratic process. It is the modern tool for knowledge and communications. All of our children, including our Latino children, must have equal access to this new world of information technology and information services so that they can succeed and be productive in the 21st century. They cannot be denied this fundamental right.
That's why I want to ask your help as the FCC sets the e-rate funding levels for the next school year. Next week, I will be voting for funding the e-rate at its cap of $2.25 billion dollars so that the more than 32,000 school districts, schools and libraries that have applied can continue to reap the benefits. While many in the Congress strongly back the e-rate, there are some who would significantly scale back or do away with the program altogether. If you believe it is good for all of our children, including our Latino children, to better prepare them for the next millennium, please make your voices heard with your elected representatives. SU VOTO ES SU VOZ.
On a final note, with the expansion of the Internet and its greater reach to our Latino children, we need to recognize the perils of the Internet. As parents and as community leaders we need to ensure that our children are safe from criminals and predators on-line. I was recently appointed Chair of the FCC's V-Chip Task Force. The V-Chip is the term we use for the computer technology that parents can use to block television programs they feel are unsuitable for their children. On July 1, half of all new TV sets will have the V-Chip and January 1, 2000 all TV sets will have V-Chips. I encourage you to become acquainted with the V-Chip technology that will help us safeguard all of our children.
Thank you for inviting me to be with you tonight. Muchisimas gracias.